Crown Jewels: Arbitration and Payroll, Roster Management and the Greinke Effect
The payroll situation is getting a bit clearer, the rosters are getting bigger and the young pitchers should be getting more smarter.
Sometimes you just have to empty your brain a little bit and get out a few quicker hit thoughts that are rattling around in there. Spring training very quickly got into full swing and we’ve now had a chance to see the Royals in action for a few days on television and with the shortened spring, it won’t be long before they’re playing games that matter - 15 days to be precise. While I don’t think I’d want this every year, having free agency, big trades and the arbitration deadline all falling during spring has made for some pretty intense stories over the last couple weeks and it’s been sort of fun.
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Arbitration and Payroll
Arbitration numbers were exchanged yesterday and that led to a lot of players settling at the midpoint. If you aren’t aware, MLB Trade Rumors does just a phenomenal job with estimating what these players will get. Heading into the last few days, the Royals had eight players eligible - Scott Barlow, Andrew Benintendi, Cam Gallagher, Amir Garrett, Brad Keller, Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi and Ryan O’Hearn. Of those eight, the Royals came to terms with six of them, signing Barlow, Gallagher, Garrett, Keller, Mondesi and O’Hearn. That leaves Benintendi and Lopez, if you’re keeping score at home, which is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.
For years, there were only a couple of teams that were “file and trial” teams meaning that if a deal wasn’t met by the deadline to exchange figures, they were going to a trial. The Royals, notably, have not been to many cases, only heading to arbitration with Brandon Maurer, but in past years they’ve sort of hinted that they would go. I think it’s interesting that the two players who haven’t reached deals yet are the players remaining. Benintendi is interesting because he’s only been with the team for a year and while it was solid, it was also uneven. He’s an extension candidate due to the lack of team control so maybe they just decided to exchange figures and keep working on that extension. I don’t know, but I find that interesting.
With Lopez, he’s coming off a season that should get him paid pretty well, at least as well as a Super Two player can get paid. An OBP over .360 and great defense at shortstop is very valuable. The two exchanged numbers with Lopez asking for $2.95 million and the Royals offering $2.55 million. Both numbers are well above his estimate. It seems odd to me that they wouldn’t have come to a deal given these two figures. Is Lopez a trade piece? Maybe someone who could help bring back someone like Frankie Montas? I haven’t heard anything, but the A’s have targeted guys who are near big league ready or young big leaguers. Or are they looking to give him and themselves some certainty with him in a longer-term deal? I’m curious to see how that plays out.
But with that all said and done, the Royals have about $68.6 million in guaranteed contracts on the books now for 2022. That covers 13 players. Benintendi and the Royals were a bit farther apart than Lopez and the Royals with Benintendi asking for $8.5 million and the Royals countering at $7.3 million. Both those figures are a pretty decent way away from the estimate of $9.3 million. If they’re going for a three-year pact, that screams three years and $30 million, but let’s use the midpoint of those two at about $10.75 million total for these purposes. Add in 11 minimum salary players at the new $700,000 minimum and it puts the Royals payroll at a touch above $89 million (though it could range from about $88.3 million to $89.7 million for a 26-man roster.
Yes, they’ve had some tough financial seasons the last two for a new ownership group, but as I wrote last year, the bigger group probably limits some losses. I had heard before last season that if the right deal was there, they could get to $110 million or so. We’ve heard in the past that the payroll isn’t necessarily a one-year number but rather something that is set out over a few seasons, which means that if they don’t make another move (and the only real move I see is something like trading for Montas, who settled with the A’s at $5.025 million), they should have a little money left over. Does that mean they could make a big move to take on a contract later this year if they’re in it? Or that they could make a big move in free agency next year? I don’t know, but they appear to be in a good spot financially moving forward.
So far I’ve put out two different roster predictions with one coming before the lockout ended and one right after. In the second, I mentioned the possibility that they could expand the rosters in April to account for the short spring and pitchers likely still getting built up. It sounds like that’s going to be the case (along with the extra innings ghost runner for 2022 which I absolutely hate).
So the rosters will be expanded through May 1 and that makes the Royals lives potentially easier. Looking at the roster possibilities, there isn’t exactly a clear 13th position player that would have been necessary if they had the roster limit of 13 pitchers. A lot of that is due to the versatility of the team. They’ve got an infielder likely starting in right field, a guy who can play all four corners as DH and three shortstops in total on the roster. Even with a guy like JaCoby Jones as the fourth outfielder who can play center, it’s pretty easy to see how they can get by with 12 position players.
And on the pitching staff, they have the opposite problem. I can list all the players again, but you know the names. They have 24 pitchers on the 40-man roster, including Tyler Zuber on the 60-day IL. Of those 24, 20 have big league experience and you can make a case for all of them to be on the Opening Day roster (other than the injured Zuber, of course). Add in non-roster guys like Colten Brewer, Brad Peacock and Arodys Vizcaino who could make the team and the Royals find themselves in a bit of trouble in terms of figuring out what to do there.
Because of that, it won’t surprise me in the least to see the Royals just take 12 position players with them to Kansas City and break camp with 16 pitchers. If I had to guess, I’d say that 16 pitchers would mean a six-man rotation, which is how they ended the season last year. So that lessens the competition a bit around the roster this spring. We know that Zack Greinke is in. We assume that Keller is in. I think Brady Singer is in too. So that originally left two spots for some combination of Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Carlos Hernandez, Jackson Kowar, Angel Zerpa and Jon Heasley. But it seems there will likely be a third spot in the rotation and maybe two additional bullpen spots if they do go all the way to 16.
I think the first three I mentioned have the best shot to be starting. I would assume Lynch is in a rotation either way, whether it’s in the big leagues or at Omaha, but Bubic or Hernandez both could be in the bullpen where they worked last year. Kowar also had one relief outing and in his first spring start, I think he showed why he could work there. I also think Zerpa could make a nice reliever. Heasley, I believe, is like Lynch at this moment. They’ll probably want him starting wherever he is at this point, so he probably doesn’t have much of a shot, but expanded rosters do change the calculus quite a bit for the Royals and also might give them some tough choices come May 2.
The Greinke Effect
If you’ve watched the games that have been televised over the last few days, you’ll notice that guys seem to be talking to Greinke quite a bit. Yesterday it was Bobby Witt Jr. on the bench, but on Sunday afternoon, Lynch was there for 45 minutes or so just picking the brain of Greinke. What caught my attention was when Lynch was talking to Joel Goldberg during the broadcast and Joel asked him about the conversation. Lynch seemed almost giddy to be talking about the conversation.
I spoke with someone familiar with Greinke’s time with the Diamondbacks and he mentioned how much Zack liked to talk pitching with some of their young pitchers. It wasn’t a group quite like the Royals have, but Alex Young, Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker are some of the names to play with the Diamondbacks while Greinke was there. I think we all know how Greinke feels about talking to the media and dealing with that aspect of being a professional baseball player, but I do believe he loves the game and loves the art of pitching.
We heard the story of him watching Singer’s side session and telling him something that Singer didn’t want to hear but needed to. He did the same with Lynch. He will likely do the same with Jackson Kowar and Carlos Hernandez and a bunch of other young arms. And then, whether they want to hear it or not, he will likely tell them his thoughts. Coming from someone like him, I sincerely hope they listen because Greinke is a pitcher who not only has a ton of experience, but he has experience in just about every situation.
He’s been a bad pitcher and a great pitcher and a good pitcher and a solid pitcher and he’s done that as a power pitcher and a finesse pitcher and something in between. He’s been on good teams and bad teams and mediocre teams. He’s also thrown at least 250 of seven different pitches throughout his career, so he has experience with just about every kind of pitch a guy will throw. If nothing else, he’s a different voice who can still pitch but can almost be an additional pitching coach. And what’s so great about it is it doesn’t seem like he feels like he has to, but that he wants to. The Royals young pitchers would be wise to listen.
Love the analysis, and I would love to be a fly on the wall during a Greinke 'teaching session'. I wonder if it would be part Dalai Lama, part Jeff Spiccoli...
Also, how can one BUY some of those dashing glasses? Inquiring wallets want to know!
Man that is a lot of pitchers - but reading your logic I can see it as well. There is an immense amount of 'position versatility' on this roster. If Matheny doesn't have a "pitcher scenario playbook" in his pocket, he's going to need one and it may look like a NFL Offensive Coordinator playbook.
The extension thoughts are something I thought of as well, but on the trade front it seems something would've gotten leaked at this point but who knows.
All good points on Grienke and the Grienke effect - some say it's worth 6 games lol. I didn't hear the whole story - what was it that he told Singer?